Chris Rock once juxtaposed complimenting André 3000’s artistic calibre, to showering a beautiful women with bouquets for her exquisiteness. At times it seems as though artists such as 3 Stacks, Kwani Experience, Sade and even Frank Ocean play hard to get with their cult-like followers, who are subjected to waiting aeons for any release.
“Don’t play hard to get, but play hard to forget.” This corny line by Drake aids my understanding as to why the great aforementioned artists are lauded. It’s not the excitement of dangerously flirting with the possibility of losing ardent fans, nor playing hard to get but artists who don’t fickle to industry pressure have this in common- they respect time and the muscle of art.
“…they’ve been asking for it [a solo project] since our first Las Day Fam album in 2008. So a huge expectation is certainly out there,” rap artist LandmarQ tells me. Over a decade later LDF has released two albums, Eternal Effect (2012) and Dissent (2017). The clique won the Best Group award in the now defunct Hype magazine Hip Hop awards in 2010, got a SAMA nomination at the 2013 South African Music Awards (SAMA) and won Best Gospel Rap at the SABC’s Crown Gospel awards in 2011.
But still, dololo a LandmarQ project. With no disrespect to Bonafide and Baggz, it’s an open secret that listeners fervently anticipate the LandmarQ verse on each LDF track. He has the sort of presence on a track, a mere punchline or clever wordplay can’t match. It’s not only in what LandmarQ says, or how he says it but shit sounds sick because it come from him- he has natural artistic integrity.
“It was inevitable that a time for a solo would come. I just never had a timeline/deadline for it. I also wanted it to be organic when it happens. I wanted it to be inspired and come from a good place. I believe creativity can’t be forced or pressured. It should be an outpouring of a natural process,” says LandmarQ.
Be that as it may, some artists shun going solo because of their discomfort of being the centre of attention preferring to “hide” within a group- there’s a plethora of reasons why some performers won’t pursue a solo career. “I am not uncomfortable about it. I just believe that there is a time and place for everything. In any show, the spot light moves to where it needs to, for the purpose of shining and highlighting the main performance act for that particular moment. So I’m happy to have the spotlight when it’s my time to perform.”
“IF THE MEDIA SAYS THERE’S A GENRE OF HIP HOP CALLED CHRISTIAN RAP, I’M NOT PART OF THAT GENRE. SIMILAR TO THE UNDERGROUND RAPPER TITLE…”- LandmarQ
Having pondered on it and even getting the nod from his LDF brothers, the spotlight is stationed on LandmarQ with the release of his debut solo project Envy and Avarice, a seven track mixtape which is first of a trilogy of mixtapes set to drop this year, inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins.
He says the decision to release was taken in 2019 “I met and consulted with several producers to craft a sound for the album. I also made several beats for the project but then decided an album might not be entirely a good idea especially considering that I haven’t put out music before as a solo artist. So therefore a different approach was required.”
He took the old school route, hopping on other people’s instrumentals which he tweaked a bit. “So the producer in me still found expression on this project albeit a little less than usual. However the route to follow the traditional mixtape method was crucial for me to do because it’s important that music lovers and fans alike get to experience LandmarQ on a wide variety of instruments/beats. The key thing however was creating a sizeable body of work.”
The reason he chose the Seven Deadly Sins as the concept for his series of mixtapes, is to bring awareness to the condition of society in general, and specifically the condition of the Hip Hop culture. J. Cole did something similar last year with the Kids On Drugs album, focusing on narcotics. A concept about Greed, Envy, Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust and Wrath directly questions the behaviour of the inner self.
“We are all confronted with varying degrees of extremes of the Se7en (remember the movie by this title with Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman?) in our society at large and in Hip Hop. And the hip hop community is a lovely case in point i.e. tension between old and new cats, underground and commercial, this sound and that sound etc. And its manifestation in hip-hop is most notable because hip-hop as a form of expression is definitely brash/boisterous.”
The rap artist who hails from Tembisa comes from a group pigeonholed to Christian rap and with a solo project tackling a heavy topic such as the 7 Deadly Sins, there’s a likelihood of being trapped in that box as the preachy rapper. “I am not making a Christian statement with this mixtape series. I am making a statement on humanity, in the world at large and in hip hop culture,” LandmarQ says adamantly.
“The Seven Deadly Sins is not a Christian concept. After all, the seven deadly sins aren’t even mentioned in the Bible. Its origins are nebulous and likely trace back to before Hellenistic Greece. Historically, and especially in the Philosophical disciplines, the 7 Deadly Sins have been society’s way of trying to formulate a universal theory of the pitfalls that human beings face.”
But LandmarQ isn’t oblivious to how the simple-minded might perceive his choice of topic to be conservative and limiting especially because the media has dubbed him a ‘Christian rapper’. “That isn’t how I would describe myself. If the media says there’s a genre of Hip Hop called Christian rap, I’m not part of that genre. Similar to the ‘Underground Rapper’ title. I wouldn’t describe myself as an underground rapper.”
He continues “In Hip Hop we rap about our way of life. And because I am a Christian, I have and will continue to touch on Christian themes from time to time. But that’s no different than any rappers that incorporate their reality in their music. Chuck D of Public Enemy said rappers are like journalists. I’m a rapper’s rapper and have rapped alongside the best rappers in the country and have been featured on numerous songs that aren’t Christian and aren’t underground. And my message is universal. If you love Hip Hop that stands for something, I’m your guy. I however am a rounded human being. Sometimes my music is about having fun with wordplay, with different flows and metaphors.”
The project is out today. Listen and download it here
The balancing of a bank statement seems a mustard seed juxtaposed to the balancing act faith rappers have to pull-off to produce quality rap without diluting their content.
Rap group Las Days Fam (LDF) has learnt to master the art for more than a decade now having officially been together since 2005. From the release of their debut Official Street’s EP in 2008 the group has continuously changed people’s perception of Christian rap without sounding like a TD Jakes on 808s but actually producing quality Hip Hop music. “I think some Christian artists tend to think mentioning Jesus in your music is enough and hence they don’t take enough care in ensuring that they produce quality music,” says Baggz.
The three-man clique from Tembisa is made up of Thapelo ‘Baggz’ Mpai, Tshepo ‘Bonafide’ Shabangu and Thabang ‘Landmarq’ Byl.
Hip Hop is competitive in its nature and one earns respect by how skilful they are with their rhymes, wordplay, delivery, etc. LDF doesn’t get sentimental love because they rap the Word of God and social issues, but because they are serious emcees who can stand their ground against the best, lyrically. “You have to love, appreciate and study the art form. There is no point of addressing such a serious topic with mediocrity in the art form,” says Landmarq.
They scooped the Best Group award in the now defunct Hype magazine Hip Hop awards in 2010. Being those ‘Christian rappers’ sounds a daunting task when you perform on big stages as Back To The City alongside industry heavyweights but Landmarq disagrees “…we cut our teeth on platforms like that. Especially because it was the whole package that got us recognized [rhymes, faith, beats].”
They address serious topics in their latest project, Dissent released last year. These include the state of the music industry, religious establishments as well as other social issues. The country has witnessed opportunistic individuals posing as pastors in churches taking advantage of desperate people, be it feeding congregants grass or dishing out false prophesies-which to some extent tarnish the image of the Christian faith in the country, but Bonafide says people need to be savvy and consume the
“That’s what we’re encouraging the masses to do, cause we’re defenders of the faith we profess. Our listeners are deep thinkers who can distinguish between what’s right and wrong, and they know our stance on this issue,” he says.
Dissent is their third studio album after their well-acclaimed 2012 release Eternal Effect. The double-disc sophomore album received a surprise nod at the 2013 South African Music Awards (SAMA) after they were nominated in the best rap category. Although the award went to Khuli Chana, Landmarq says they walked away with validation. “Because on one hand we received acknowledgement from a secular body in a secular category (i.e.SAMA) and on the other hand also winning an award from a religious institution like the Crowns. It meant that what we have always believed and proclaimed about our music is not only an idea in our heads but a reality, for others too.”
LDF in 2011 won an award for Best Gospel Rap at the SABC’s Crown Gospel awards.
STAYING TRUE TO HIP HOP
Like their previous album and unlike a trend we’ve seen lately in rap and music overall, Dissent has a stretched track list of 19 songs. LDF still maintain the old school style of a long album and listening to the 90s influenced Boom-bap beats which are a stark different from the Trap sound that Hip Hop is currently immersed in. You’d swear the album isn’t a 2017 release sonically.
“Since our album title is Dissent, we didn’t want to do what everyone in the industry was doing, although the temptation was there to conform. It was a real struggle working on this album trying to find our voice and sound. We had to chop and change some of the songs because they were not fitting for what we wanted to achieve,” says Bonafide who’s an audio engineer.
All members are married with lives outside of this rap thing. Landmarq is an Electrical Engineer while Baggz is a Theological student. The album is released under their own label Eternal Effect.